Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dollar dives again

I came home just in time.
The dollar dropped to 77 cents, down 2.5 cents just today!

The people, the accents, the conversations

These people made my trip. They either ate with me, drank with me, drove me to interesting places, walked around those interesting places, or let me sleep on their couch or air mattress or even bed (not with them -- calm down). Or in some cases, all of the above.
  • Doug and Cynthia in Halifax.
  • Ryan and Maya in Washington.
  • Don in Nashville.
  • Phil in Nashville.
  • Jim in Birmingham.
  • Sean, Cole, and Stacey in New Orleans.
  • Joana and Jeff in Chicago.
  • Jen in Denver.
  • The Cosgroves in Albuquerque.
  • Laura in Austin.
  • Sean and Cole again. Glorious.
Oh, and there were these secondary characters who livened up life on the bus:
  • Javier the soon-to-be media baron from Orlando.
  • The Drunk Texan who travelled 3,500 miles on the bus to three funerals in a week, and then visited his sister before she had triple-bypass surgery.
  • Shelley and Stacey, two Canadian songwriters introduced to me at the Nashville hostel by the aforementioned Phil, another Canadian (who blogged about his time in the city)
  • Pete the recent convict (no big deal, it was just residential burglary "for a good cause")
  • Amanda the pregnant lesbian and former lover of a currently incarcerated ex-boyfriend.
  • Weirdo, a.k.a. Captain Obvious, who was on the way to Oregon.
  • Loudmouth in the back who called me "Toronto" (and Amanda "Germany")
  • Gunshot victim in Salt Lake City (at the hands of a 95-year-old woman).
  • Floridian woman who didn't believe a thing I said about Greyhound.
  • Jeff the disgruntled, yet happy-go-lucky Floridian who was coming from a job in San Jose.
  • Various barristas throughout America.
  • Various crying babies across America.
Oh, and most of all. Man, I can't forget these people. They are arguably even more important than NOLA Sean, who opened doors to me all across the country:
  • The bus drivers of America.

Some, though not all, wrap-up

A few weeks ago, I set off on an adventure to do two things: see America and meet Americans. The only planning I did was have money in the bank and a Greyhound pass that would take me just about anywhere. In other words, not much.

All things considered, then, the trip went well. It spanned twenty-five states and included a whole lot of nice, gracious, outgoing, and terribly friendly people. A hundred posts later, I think October Nick would be satisfied with November Nick's travels.

A sort-of recap of cities visited. Not driven through, but visited:
  1. Halifax
  2. Bangor
  3. Boston
  4. Washington, D.C.
  5. Lexington, Kentucky
  6. Nashville
  7. Birmingham
  8. New Orleans
  9. Chicago
  10. Denver
  11. Salt Lake City
  12. Albuquerque
  13. Austin
  14. Atlanta
And now, day-by-day distance covered in miles. Keep in mind, there were some rest days:

Day 1: 254 (Halifax to Bangor)
Day 2: 244
Day 3: 455
Day 5: 557
Day 6: 466
Day 7: 214
Day 9: 362
Day 14: 965 (New Orleans to Chicago)
Day 17: 1096 (Chicago to Denver)
Day 19: 592 (in air)
Day 21: 592 (in air)
Day 22: 479
Day 23: 849 (Albuquerque to Austin)
Day 26: 558
Day 28: 533
Day 29 and 30: 1,038 (Atlanta to Toronto)

Total: 9,254

Um. That's 14,806 kilometres. Or 493.5 kilometres a day.
That doesn't make sense. I can't fathom that.

Assuming the bus was always travelling at 70 miles per hour, the limit on the Interstate system, I was on a bus for just over 132 hours. Given the reality of roads, acceleration, deceleration, and construction, and traffic jams, bus time lasted much, much longer.

And all that doesn't include flying from Toronto to Halifax two days before the bus trip started.

This reflection stuff is fun. What to calculate next?


Oh, and please excuse the calculation of miles per day. It includes travel through the air, which it shouldn't for accuracy. But the point stands.

UPDATE: My friend Philippe reminded me that the Earth's diameter is roughly 12,800 kilometres. Take that, planet!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Map update: 19 November

I write this from Toronto, where my bus safely arrived this afternoon. Above is the completed map, roughly broken into the two halves of the trip (black = first half; blue = second half).

Below is the day-by-day map. It's a bit hard to follow in some places, and I spent multiple days in a few places, of course, but it at least illustrates how long (and short) some of the trips were. Check out Chicago to Denver, Albuquerque to Austin, and Atlanta to Toronto. Man oh man. Never do that.

The long (long, long, long) ride home

25 hours in total. Atlanta to Chattanooga to Nashville to Louisville to Cincinnati to Detroit to Windsor to London to Toronto (Yorkdale first, argh) to downtown Toronto. Don't ever do what I did after spending 32 days on the road.

It's fine to take one of these long trips, or even two or three -- okay, not three -- but the rides just don't end. Toss in some crying babies, some sickeningly irritable coughing from all sides, and the cramped space that is the Greyhound, and you get cabin fever almost instantly.

This, though, was one of the better looking parts of the trip. It's the Tennessee River just a few miles north and west of Chattanooga. Sorry for any glare.

Otherwise, not a fun trip. I did pick up a book called The Edifice Complex in Chattanooga (at the bus station, of all places) and got through some of it. Take a look at the review if you're interested. It's all about power and its relation to architecture, and vice versa -- really interesting stuff. I just couldn't get too far without getting annoyed by a shrill baby or gross cough or an unsettling bump in the road.

Georgia: Home of peaches, CNN, and an Olympic park

I was in Atlanta for just a few hours on Tuesday morning before the bus left for Toronto (well, the bus to Chattanooga, Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati, Detroit, London, and -- 24 hours later -- Toronto).

But I got the chance to walk around a bit and check some things out. I recorded this video in the Olympic park. It was cold and windy.

You'll notice I talk about the CNN Centre. Clearly, I was excited to see it. Walking inside, this is what confronts visitors:

CNN is an empire. The lady at the ticket booth volunteered that information. She probably noticed how obviously wide-eyed I was at the whole scene. I didn't care that the tour cost $12 -- this was CNN, everyone's favourite mainstream-media punching bag!

Well, the tour was just what you would expect: longish (about 45 minutes) and polished to the last detail. We walked past -- above, really -- some of the studios and hung around atop the newsroom for a few minutes as the tour guide, Anne-Claire (or Claire-Anne?), talked about how each worker bee contributed to the hive's uber success.

OK, so CNN doesn't have the best coverage of international events. I'd still kill to work in that newsroom. In the end, worth the $12. Maybe not for everyone, though.

AC did mention something towards the end of the tour that piqued my interest. She informed us all about the majesty of CNN's iReport system -- YouTube for citizen journalists. Her shining example of iReport at its finest was when one college student at Virginia Tech relayed his photos and videos very quickly after the shooting there. CNN was able to break the story before anyone else.

I asked AC if the kid was paid anything for his efforts. She said when people submit material, they allow CNN the right to use it but retain the right to sell it elsewhere. Answer: no. Interesting, I thought: CNN has created a means of working around freelancers, acquiring breaking news without paying a cent, and even giving the "iReporter" a few seconds of fame.

My partial diagnosis as a struggling freelancer: lame. The rest of me says it's smart business.


Last stop before the bus: the State Capitol. Why not, right? It's yet another dome. It's not as pretty or foreboding as some of its counterparts in other states. Here it is, in sunny glory:

Atlanta: First impressions

I walked out of the subway (called MARTA) after getting into Atlanta at about 11 p.m. and, almost immediately, three people asked me for money. And they were willing to help me out by showing me the way to the hostel where I had booked a room.

Two notes:
a) I had almost no money (one American dollar, five Canadian dollars)
b) These people clearly had never heard of the hostel ("You mean hotel?")

So one guy, Tyrone, insisted that he would help me. I knew the address of the place already and could probably guess just as accurately as he where it was, but what the heck. He seemed nice and I was too tired to say No Thanks.

We got to the place, which was seven or eight blocks from the subway, and I said I could really offer very little. I didn't want to insult him by giving him pennies. I did find that dollar bill and also gave him the five bucks. Hell, he had gone out of his way and was down on his luck.

Times like this on the trip, I realize that I still do have some money in the bank. Not too much, but enough that I don't have to help clueless quasi-tourists as they linger outside of a subway close to midnight.

A little later on, I was walking by a hotel a few blocks from the hostel. Another lady asked me for some money. Then, several very well-dressed people walked by, looking like they were on the way somewhere important.

I don't know too much about Atlanta -- 16 hours isn't much time to assess the situation -- but it seems like it's just one of many American (and Western, really) examples of poverty and wealth confronting each other each day, block after block, neighbourhood after neighbourhood.


Also, Atlanta has a lot of security cameras and what seemed like a pretty substantial presence of guards and police officers. Again, maybe it's where I was in the city (Midtown, looked like Yonge/Eglinton or Yonge/Sheppard), but I never felt entirely uncomfortable.